The following is a piece written by students from an AP Environmental Science class at Woodstock Union High School. Students Erica Kurash, Carl Gebhardt, Lily Walker-Money, Toby Borzekowski, and Natalie Stevens recently presented their work for Sustainable Woodstock’s Green Drinks event held at the Marsh-Billing-Rochefeller National Historic Park:
Pete Fellows and Jess Richter work for Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, where Pete works on IT and Jess in the Planning Department. Jess has a background in marine biology, which she applies to her work on local rivers. Pete works to analyze and redesign drainage plans, especially for dirt roads, which can face much erosion. This erosion affects both the road and the rivers by putting excess sediment and chemicals into the river. Both Pete and Jess work to secure funding to test rivers and prepare and plan for the future of our roads and rivers. We had the privilege to speak with them in our AP Environmental Science class, taught by Ms. Vanessa Cramer.
Pete Fellows and Jess Richter have taken great interest in protecting Vermont watersheds, specifically the Ottauquechee River Watershed. A watershed is a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers, and eventually, outflow points such as reservoirs, bays, and the ocean. Pete focuses mainly on rivers, streams, and the negative impacts of storm runoff entering bodies of water. He has dedicated his time to brainstorming solutions that can prevent the excess chemicals and sediments coming from storm runoff and erosion from flowing into our local Ottauquechee River. Pete’s work helps to protect these aquatic ecosystems and the species that live there so they do not suffer from the alterations of pollution. Watersheds provide ecosystem services in many ways, such as nutrient cycling, water storage, water filtration, wildlife movement corridors, and carbon storage. These factors are each essential to environmental prosperity. The Ottauquechee Rivers’ water quality has positively evolved over the years. For example, the Bridgewater Mill Mall dumped dye into the river for years, impacting the water. Hurricane Irene also had a major impact, polluting the water with many unnecessary items as well as causing high amounts of erosion and storm runoff. Now, our water quality thrives without those pollutants but, as Pete explained, there are many ideas that the community surrounding the Ottauquechee river can advocate for and implement to improve water quality. Pete Fellows promoted maintaining a clean watershed as important because it keeps safe not only the habitats of land animals, but the aquatic species as well. Water quality also affects tourism: when the quality decreases, so does the economy. Most importantly, keeping the water quality of the watershed clean and healthy will keep the human community healthy for years to come.
According to Pete and Jess, storm runoff is one of the major sources of pollution in the Ottauquechee River watershed. Most of the runoff occurs on smaller back roads that are generally not paved. The nutrient rich runoff enters small streams and brooks which later feed into the Ottauquechee River and eventually the Connecticut River. These nutrients lead to an increase in turbidity, a decrease in dissolved oxygen and smaller populations of fish. Pete and Jess not only consider runoff to be a major source of pollution, they also consider it to be one of the biggest threats that the Ottauquechee currently faces. Since the Ottauquechee deposits into the Connecticut River, everything in our local river impacts one of the largest watersheds on the East Coast. In particular, it is important to monitor nitrate and phosphorus, because they are the two water quality factors that play the biggest role in the eutrophication of water bodies. If our water is mistreated, there are many consequences.
When too many nutrients enter the water through runoff or erosion, this can create algae blooms, blocking the sunlight from different organisms deeper in the water. Decomposers then remove oxygen from the dead plants which decreases the level of dissolved oxygen. Those plants and organisms die off, starving fish. If there is no water life, the ecosystem will suffer tremendously.
Two Rivers Ottauquechee is an organization that organizes data collections, maps, and helps to develop management plans for towns. Despite the fact that Fellows and Richter oversee 30 different towns in eastern Vermont, their office is at the King Farm right here in Woodstock. As an organization, TRORC is working to maintain the water quality and erosion, and if possible even improve it. Recently the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), enacted a policy that forces towns to look at erosion issues on their roads and apply for permits to ensure that they comply. Two Rivers is now working on a program that will help towns reduce erosion on the dirt roads that make up a huge part of Vermont’s transportation systems. They are informing town officials that it is no longer environmentally acceptable to leave a line of excess road material (known as grader berms) on the edges of roads because the distributed flow of precipitation is altered and therefore more likely to create erosion and sediment build up. Clearly, if grader berms are a problem, so are water bars on roads and driveways. So what does TRORC have to do with policies put in place by the DEC? Through TRORC, Richter and Fellows are working closely with towns to create plans and actively alter roads that do not meet the specifications set forth by the state. In addition to creating these plans, they are helping the town source money to make upgrades.
It is extremely important for the public to know that changes are being made to help improve the health of our watershed. Pete Fellows also wants people to understand that large changes have already occurred, such as massive decrease in E. Coli levels in the Ottauquechee River. It is also important for the public to know of all the different projects they can become involved in if they wish to become a steward to help make our environment a healthier place. There are many ways to be a steward. One way is to Attend ONRCD Meetings. The Ottauquechee Natural Resources Conservation District (ONRCD) holds meetings to help educate people about conservation needs of the Ottauquechee, and to help fill the needs of many farmers pertaining to water usage. This can help the community as you can educate others on what is happening within the district and about various ways they can help. Visit http://onrcd.org for more information. Another way you can become more involved with your watershed is by joining a partnership, such as the La Rosa Partnership. As a La Rosa Partner you monitor different aspects of the watershed that you are interested in for various reasons. The responsibilities of being a partner include; preparing RFPs (request for proposals), QAPPs (Quality Assurance Project Plans), training volunteers to collect the water samples, collecting the water samples, sample delivery to VAEL, completing bottle orders, interacting with the VAEL staff, preparing the final report, and disseminating the results to the public. Visit https://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/map/monitor/larosa for more information.